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Christy Collins

Thoughts on books, films, writing and life

Saying goodbye to my book club

I recently left a book club that I had loved attending for a good handful of years. A club full of bright, beautiful women in the middle of what will probably be the busiest phase of their lives. The club had shifted focus as people moved in and out of it and as members’ lives changed. I left because I felt it had stopped being book-focused in any real way with people expressing increasing disinterest – both overtly and covertly – not so much in books in general, but in the ones we had chosen to read and discuss in particular.

Michelle, who initiated the club and advertised it on Gumtree, originally proposed we would read books from the ‘1001 books to read before you die’ list, or rather lists as there are a number of versions. Other members were working their way through the 100 books listed by The Guardian so we added this to the allowable book selections and took it in turn to propose either a book selection or, more commonly, to present a shortlist to the group who then helped to make the final decision. In my opinion this was the most successful phase of the book club. Later, craving some more contemporary reads, a better geographical spread and a broader variety of selections by female authors, we all but abandoned this list for a loose, and not always adhered to guideline encompassing any book that had received an award.

But I don’t think the actual book selections are what have let us down as much as our level of commitment to reading them and properly discussing them. Apparently this is not uncommon. The brochure from the Reading Contemporary Book Club suggests this is the main reason people join, claiming that their group’s primary focus is on books and that the social aspect is secondary. And so, my plan is to try joining it this year to see if I can regain the excitement I felt about the book club when it first started.

If I am honest I would actually prefer it was a “Classics” book club. I read and buy contemporary fiction anyway, as well as consuming many literary reviews, podcasts and online articles and attending events and festivals. Part of the appeal, to me, of the 1001 Book Club, in its first form, was the way it helped me to build up my knowledge of the canon. As partial and as problematic as the idea of the canon is, the books that form it are strange and wonderful and when reading ten to twelve of them a year they begin to connect and reflect each other in interesting ways.

So thank you, Michelle and to everyone who has formed part of the group over the years. I never thought I’d be a book club type of person but at its best the group taught me about myself, about the books and about the world. Some nights it was thrilling: a true exploration of the literary as well as the cultural. Here’s hoping I can find some glimmer of that early experience in my next book club.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Kimonos and selfie sticks, the temples of Higashiyama

Arashiyama

Arashiyama was swarming with tourists and so it wasn’t the mystical place I had been imagining, but the temple gardens were stunning and the bamboo forest was still rather beautiful despite the noisy throngs of selfy-stick carrying tourists.

Okayama

Okayama was our base for visiting Naoshima Art Island but the city itself has a lot to offer, not least the demi-glazed katsu don which we happily sampled in the evening. No doubt Okayama is even more beautiful when the sun come out!

Hitting Osaka for dinner

We took a quick side trip to Dontonbori for dinner, even though Osaka wasn’t on our hit list for this trip, because JR passes seem to make us train-happy. The food here is incredible but the Okonomiyaki at Chuo and the egg tarts at Lord Stow’s Bakery are my highlights from this trip. I think the beautiful Hokkaido seafood has dampened my enthusiasm for ‘chain’ sushi anywhere else. (I’m hoping this affliction proves reversible once I get home!)

Himeji Castle and a little bit of sakura fever

Settling in

I’ve now been at Tenjinyama Art Studio for two weeks. I have a firm handle on which pair of shoes are best for tackling the snow and now, rather quickly it seems, everything is beginning to thaw. Tomorrow night I’m headed south to Kansai to see the cherry blossoms and meet up with Mr K for a week; when I get back I’m sure the park will look quite different.

I’ve got into a fairly regular rhythm of writing in the mornings and venturing out into the world in the afternoon, whether just for groceries or to see a museum or to walk around the city. In the evenings I’m either relaxing with the other artists here, reading or returning to the writing. I feel very lucky to be able to organize my time completely around my writing.

I had also hoped to be plunging in to Japanese film but this is proving challenging logistically without speaking the language. Last night I signed up to the local Netflix but almost nothing there has English subtitles. I may have to wait until I’m home to do this part of the work. My local library has a good selection of Japanese film, and Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) usually has a strong Asian line up, so this will be a good project for the winter months on my return.

Artists’ Residency, Sapporo

A week ago I arrived in a very snowy Sapporo to begin my Asialink residency at Tenjinyama Art Studio. I will be here for twelve weeks in total which will include a little bit of travel in Kansai and Hokkaido. Time seems to be going by very quickly already but so far I have been settling in, feasting on the local food and finding my way around. By now I have a subway pass, some cute sticky notes in the shape of Japanese mountains, a pillow and half a notebook full of notes that I hope will prove to be the start of a new novel. Outside my window it is snowing which is beautiful but I am also using it as an excuse not to venture outside of the studio today except maybe later for a hot sweet potato from the shop at the bottom of the hill here.

Thanks to Tenjinyama, Asialink Arts and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation for this wonderful opportunity.

The Stella Prize

In a few days the Stella Prize shortlist will be announced. A perfect opportunity to boost your reading of books by Australian women surrounded by the excitement and buzz around this prize. I followed the announcement of the longlist, on twitter, from home with a celebratory gin and tonic to hand. I plan to do similarly with the shortlist. Literary prizes are strange things and though I have sometimes been disappointed by the Stella lists (more by what was left off them, than what was on them), I very much admire the amount of interest, and the sense of celebration of books by women, that the team have managed to generate in the few years the prize has been running. Following the Stella is also a great way to encounter new books especially if you, like me, mostly read novels because the prize includes short stories, memoirs and non-fiction in its remit. This year in particular there seem to be a high proportion of non-fiction offerings on the list.

I’m excited to see who makes the shortlist next week. Good luck to everyone on the longlist!

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